Columns, Features, Pastorate, Theology

Yahweh Remembers Us

It is Yahweh who remembered us in our low estate,
for his covenant faithfulness endures forever;
and snatched us from our foes,
for his covenant faithfulness endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his covenant faithfulness endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his covenant faithfulness forever.
– Psalm 136:23–26

Time and again Scripture attributes salvation solely to the Lord. It does not attribute salvation to anything in us or done by us. The subject of this passage is Yahweh, the covenant Lord who delivered his rebellious people Israel from destruction in the Red Sea. We know that the subject of the Psalm is Yahweh the sovereign Lord because v.1 begins with a doxology to his name: “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, for his covenant faithfulness (חֶסֶד) endures forever.” When Scripture says that Yahweh is “good” (טוֹב) it is usually in connection with two things, his nearness and his covenant faithfulness, which term occurs in every verse (26x) of the Psalm. This Psalm of Ascents is a celebration of Yahweh’s promise making and promise keeping. We give thanks because he is above all so-called gods. He alone spoke creation into existence (vv.4–9). He alone saves his people (vv. 10–15). It is he alone who delivered his church into a good place (vv. 16–22).

The praise and doxology at the conclusion of the Psalm is in light of all that Yahweh has done: creation, salvation, and blessing.

Whom has he remembered? What does it mean for the sovereign Creator and Savior God to “remember”? These are fair questions. Let us think first about the latter. “To remember” means one thing when we speak of ourselves or other creatures and quite another when the subject is God. You and I do actually forget. In school, one might forget the answer to a math test. Later one might forget where he set his reading glasses. When the Lord is said to “remember,” it is a figure of speech. For us, time comes in a succession of moments. One moment we are in one room, the phone rings, and the next moment we forget what we were just doing. The Lord created the succession of moments but he transcends them. They are all present before him from all eternity. Some years ago J. B. Phillips published the provocative title, Your God Is Too Small. I confess that I have never read the book but the title is doubtless true. For one thing, we can not really conceive of the reality of God’s transcendence but we must confess it to be true. He is beyond our comprehending. Yet, he reveals true things about himself, which we must apprehend. One of those is that Yahweh makes and keeps promises. For the Psalmist to say that Yahweh, the covenant-making and keeping God, has remembered is to say that he does not forget his promises. The Israelites were sorely tempted to give up hope that the Lord would remember his promise but he did not forget it or them. In his good time he sent the mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses, and through him the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit delivered his son Israel out of bondage, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise. The church had to wait, in bondage, under suffering but finally, the savior came.

Whom has he remembered? His church. He constituted a covenant people and redeemed them from destruction. All those whom the Father gave to the Son shall not be lost. That has always been true. It was true under the types and shadows. After all, Jude says that it was Jesus who led them out of Egypt, which gets us to how he saves. The Psalmist uses a colorful word to describe the salvation of the Old Covenant church: “snatched.” It sometimes means suddenly to grab something from someone, like an earring from an ear. So it was that Yahweh snatched the church from the jaws of Pharaoh and death. Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness is forever. He gave food to his people in the wilderness, a type of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:1–4). The Rock who was with them in the wilderness, that Rock was Christ. He sustained his people because he keeps covenant with his church: “I will be a God to you and to your children” (Genesis 17:7).

There is one more thing to consider: why he saves. He saves because of his covenant faithfulness. We give thanks to the God of heaven because his covenant faithfulness is immutable and endless. Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness is not limited to his Old Covenant church, Israel. Moses was a savior but he was not the Savior. That one was still to come and he did come. In the fulness of time, born of a virgin, born under the law, for our salvation. With the Psalmist we rejoice in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness. He has not forgotten us. All the types and shadows, all the bloodshed, came to its end in the cross and the tomb in which they laid the Lamb of God. Salvation really came. The promise was fulfilled and, in his covenant faithfulness, he did not leave the Lamb in the tomb. He was raised for our justification. So our hope has been vindicated. We wait expectantly, and not as those who have no reason to hope. God the Son was in our midst. Hundreds of our brothers and sisters saw and heard him preach. They saw the miracles. Some of them were the direct recipients of his wonders and power. All of us are the recipients of his marvelous salvation. All of us who believe have been raised from death to life, granted true faith, union with the risen Christ, and adoption as sons. We are seated with him in the heavens. In him, we have access to the holy of holies.

As he came so he shall come again, this time in glory and power. We wait, but we wait as those who have already seen, as those who have been seen and known, as those redeemed from sin, the flesh, and the devil.

Yahweh remembers. He keeps covenant. Wait expectantly. Jesus is coming.

Maranatha!

Filed under: Columns, Features, Pastorate, Theology
R. Scott Clark

R. Scott Clark (D.Phil., Oxford University) is professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, an ordained minister, and author of several books including, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (P&R, 2008). Follow him on Twitter: @RScottClark.